This roundup of Disney World tips comes from Kim Kolean, a Disney travel agent. If you’d like to reach out to her, you can find her on her Facebook page.
I am a mom of 3 kids ages 24, 15 and 7 and a Disney Destination Specialist. I have been visiting Walt Disney World since a child and have used this experience and love for Disney to fulfill my dream of creating magical vacations for other families.
What kind of experience have you had planning trips for families with highly sensitive kids?
Along with planning Disney vacations with my own 24 year old special needs son, I have helped families navigate the Disney disability access pass and rider swap system. Keeping your child comfortable and calm sometimes during extreme heat or times of sensory overload is challenging. Being prepared is key. Perhaps that means bringing headphones for noise. Cooling towels or neck fan for the heat. Taking advantage of quiet areas. Or bringing that special fidget toy in your backpack. For my own son, utilizing the DAS pass and avoiding planning trips during the hot summer is key.
When would be the best time of year for families with highly sensitive kids to travel to Disney World?
I would definitely avoid planning a trip around a holiday. Those times of year can bring additional travelers and local Floridians into the parks on the weekends. I have been to Disney World in both January and February and I like the cooler temperatures, lower humidity and slower crowds those months. Avoiding hurricane season which is June 1 through November 30 is also important in my opinion. September typically produces the most hurricanes. Going to Disney World between January and March/April, while avoiding spring break, would be my recommendation.
Which accommodations (onsite or offsite) would you recommend for families with highly sensitive children?
Last month, I took a solo trip to Walt Disney World with a mission to visit as many Disney resorts as I could in two full days. This was actually during Spring Break week, which was also a blessing and a curse. I really got to see how the additional visitors affected the resorts. The pools were less busy during the day, so having a down day to swim could be nice because most people were at the parks. I don’t recommend swimming in the evening because it gets busy.
Larger Disney resorts where guests can be spread out is nicer in my opinion. And I also like the resorts with larger pools. I loved Coronado Springs and Caribbean Beach resorts, which are great moderate level resorts. Having multiple bus stop locations within the resort cut down on walking. And the larger grounds tend to be quieter and less prone to large groups coming in and overtaking the resort.
What are some challenges that highly sensitive children might have at Disney World parks?
Overstimulation and heat would be the top two challenges, in my opinion. Knowing what items to pack in your backpack and being prepared to provide comfort for your child will make it enjoyable for everyone in your family. Slow down and try not to do too much in one day. Take breaks and ask a cast member where to go if you’re unsure on how to navigate the park.
If a family was not sure whether to go to Disney World because of overstimulation, what would you tell them?
I totally understand that there will be additional challenges and it will take more planning. BUT the result of seeing your child’s face light up the first time they see Cinderella’s Castle or Mickey Mouse is priceless.
I recently helped a family who had a child who was non-verbal and completely wheelchair bound. Planning the rides and shows ahead of time was very important for this family. He could not transfer out of his wheelchair, but giving the family a list of rides and shows ahead of time made them feel assured that their son’s trip would be best it could be. Knowing how to use rider swap was important as well since they also had a non disabled child.
*Note: Rider Switch or Rider Swap allows an adult Guest to wait with a child unable to ride an attraction and then board the attraction without waiting in line again*
What is the MOST IMPORTANT tip you’d share with a family going to Disney World with highly sensitive kids?
Prepare and prepare some more. As a Disney destination specialist, it’s my job to take some of that stress off your shoulders. Education is my focus. It is so important to give the family the knowledge they need to feel as comfortable and prepared prior to their trip. I would not suggest winging it. Have your days planned out as much as possible, know what rides your child can tolerate based on noise or motion. Be flexible! Maybe try arriving mid morning instead of trying to get there right when the park opens. Take a break in the heat of the day. Plan your meals and snacks in the parks if your child has allergies. Don’t visit mobile ordering quick service restaurants right at noon when everyone feels they need to have lunch; try off times instead of peak meal times.
Anything else you’d like to share?
I can’t stress enough how wonderful Disney is for special needs parents and kids. Having the DAS (Disability Access Service) pass makes the vacation less stressful and easy to manage. Having my own child who is now an adult has given me the personal experience and knowledge how to help and educate other families.
I had the privilege to help plan a Disney vacation with 2 very medically fragile girls. The mom’s voice and face just lit up when I started talking about the ways Disney helps families in her situation. With the help of your Disney destination specialist and lots of preparing, going to Disney with your special needs child can bring memories of a lifetime.